The Soufan Group Morning Brief


In his first TV interview since assuming the presidency, President Trump told ABC’s David Muir on Wednesday that he believes torture “absolutely” works and that the US should “fight fire with fire.”

Trump stated that he would listen to his advisers, including Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, but that he wanted to do everything “within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally.” Asked about the efficacy of tactics such as waterboarding, Trump said: “absolutely I feel it works.”

He told Muir, “I have spoken, as recently as twenty-four hours ago, with people at the highest level of intelligence, and I asked them the question: Does it work? Does torture work? And the answer was yes, absolutely.” The interview came amid reports that Trump is preparing to sign an executive order that would reinstate the detention of terrorism suspects at facilities known as “black sites.” Guardian
Politico: McCain Warns Trump: We Are Not Bringing Back Torture
Daily Beast: With Trump in Charge, GOP Warms to Torture Again
President Trump may order a review that could lead to bringing back a CIA program for holding terrorism suspects in secret overseas "black site" prisons where interrogation techniques considered to be torture were used, according to multiple reports. The New York Times and Washington Post on Wednesday published what they called a three-page draft order that would undo many of the restrictions on handling detainees that President Obama put in place. It would order the review of the Army Field Manual and call for the resumption of sending detainees to Guantanamo, among other policies.

That draft order appears to be nearly identical to one prepared in September 2012 by campaign staff for Mitt Romney, as part of planning for the first 100 days of his possible administration, according to BuzzFeed. Lawmakers in both parties denounced the draft order on Wednesday even as White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he had “no idea where it came from” and that it is “not a White House document.” New York Times, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico

But regardless of its provenance, the document, according to the latest New York Times reporting, had been circulated among National Security Council staff members for review on Tuesday morning. New York Times
NBC News: Draft Order Eyes Return to Overseas CIA Prisons
JustSecurity: Why the Trump Detention and Interrogation EO May Be Illegal
Lawfare: Trump’s Self-Defeating Executive Order on Interrogation
Daily Beast: CIA Veterans: Don’t Bring Back Black Sites
BloombergView: Why Trump Won’t Open the CIA Black Sites

On Wednesday, Army Col. James Pohl, the military judge at the Guantanamo war court, postponed several days of hearings on 33 pretrial motions in the case of five men charged in the 9/11 terrorist attack until March, because of the absence of a defense lawyer who broke her arm and couldn't make it to the U.S. base in Cuba. Associated Press, The Intercept

President Trump signed a pair of executive orders on Wednesday that paved the way for the construction of a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and called for a newly expanded force to sweep up immigrants who are in the country illegally. He also announced plans for severe restrictions on legal immigration, in an order that could come as soon as today. An eight-page draft of that executive order would indefinitely block Syrian refugees from entering the United States and bar all refugees from the rest of the world for at least 120 days, until more aggressive vetting is in place. The Syria plan would involve creating safe zones inside Syria for civilians fleeing the conflict there. Trump has said such safe zones could serve as an alternative to admitting refugees to the U.S.

Separately, an order will reportedly block visas being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Vox
Washington Post: Trump’s Vetting Plan Would Weaken Security

Mattis to travel to Asia next week: Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis will make his first overseas trip as Pentagon chief next week, visiting South Korea and Japan. Reuters

Al Shabab militants have claimed responsibility for an attack on a popular central Mogadishu hotel that killed more than two dozen people on Wednesday. Al Jazeera, Guardian

Repeated statements by President Trump that the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil when it removed U.S. troops from the country has been concerning to Iraqi leaders, who are unsure what the accounts mean for the future, according to reports. CBS News
Huffington Post: Trump’s Talk on Iraq Has Experts Worried About a Coming Backlash

An employee of the cyber company Kaspersky Lab has been arrested in Russia, reportedly for treason. Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of the company’s investigations unit, was arrested in December; Sergei Mikhailov, a division head of the Russian intelligence service FSB, was arrested in relation to the same unnamed incident. The specifics of the arrests remain unclear, and Kaspersky has issued a statement saying that his arrest had nothing to do with Stoyanov’s work at the Lab. According to Forbes, the case will be tried under Russian criminal code article 275, which will lead to a “secret military tribunal.” Forbes, Engadget, Gizmodo, The Hill
Trump’s dangerous fantasies about torture: “One difference between serving in the military and being a pretend soldier at the New York Military Academy, where Trump proudly led mock drills in snappy faux military uniforms, is that, in the real thing, officers are drilled not just in marching formations but also in the laws of war,” writes Jane Mayer in the New Yorker.

‘I think Islam hates us’: “No one would argue with fighting back against ISIS, and other terrorist groups that threaten the United States, Europe, the Middle East and beyond,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “The problem is that Trump’s approach, as we know it, is more likely to further inflame anti-American sentiment around the world than to make the United States safer.”

The Islamic State wanted the West to fear Muslims and refugees. It worked. “There's little, if any, clear evidence that blocking Syrian refugees and Muslim visitors to the U.S. would help reduce the threat from terrorism,” writes Adam Taylor in the Washington Post. “More alarmingly, the policies described in Trump’s draft order would aid the rhetoric of the extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, that it aims to combat.”

Why Iraq needs the oil: “Trump’s nonchalant re-airing of the idea [that the U.S. should have ‘taken Iraq’s oil’] betrays a dangerous ignorance of Iraq’s petro-politics, which for years has both bound the country together and threatened to tear it apart,” writes Jack Watling in The Atlantic. “Petrodollars underpin the Iraqi economy, but as the country struggles to fund the war against the Islamic State, it has none to spare.”

Revisiting Guantanamo Bay
Where We've Come, Where We're Headed
February 14, 2017
6:00pm - 7:30pm
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Moral Outrage of Torture

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